Hello there! So you have found a PhD offer or you have a project idea that could be turn into a PhD in an area related to Geosciences and you are looking for some advice on how to design a CV fit for a PhD application? Well, then you are in the right place! A PhD can have many sweet and satisfying moments, especially when you challenge yourself to do something completely new to you and you end up surpassing your own expectations! So, if you feel ready to come on board the PhD ship, here at IAWG we want you to know that you can count on us for support!
Writing a CV for a PhD application can be quite daunting and to get it to a top notch level requires a bit of practice, but do not despair. Below we are providing you with some excellent tips that have helped us to get where we are today! In particular, Aileen, one of our committee members, has been so kind to offer the CV that helped her to start her PhD in iCRAG as an example. So let’s have a look at Aileen’s CV:
A curriculum is definitely more than just a list of your past jobs and education. It can explain how you are as a person and what elements of your personality and experience you could bring to a research project. One of the strongest points of Aileen’s curriculum is that she has been incredibly active throughout her college education, not only in the academic realm but also in engaging with the general public, especially in her own community.
What does her curriculum say about her?
First, her CV screams loud and clear about her hard working personality and her impressive time management skills. It is not easy to combine so many activities with all the college’s workload, so it demonstrates that Aileen has a great capacity to focus and get things done. This curriculum not only talks about her motivation to be involved in highly specialised research but it also shows her passion in transmitting this research and engage with the general public. In an era where there is an increasing effort for bringing Science and people together, this type of attitude is perceived as a wonderful trait to complement your research skills. It also makes your research project way more meaningful and it can help to fuel your capacity to keep working hard during those moments where your research project is not running so smoothly. Her CV also shows her commitment and sense of duty, since she has held many roles with high level of responsibility such as Finance Officer of the UCC Geology Society or as a Meitheal Leader during secondary school (Meithal Programme is an anti-bullying programme for students where senior students receive training and become mentors of First Year students).
What type of ideas from Aileen’s curriculum could you implement in your CV?
Make the most out of your skills!
Make a list of everything that you have done so far: your interests, your achievements, your goals, etc., and analyse what these things say about you. Then you can use all these life experiences to draw a more accurate picture of your personality throughout your CV. Some people call this list their Master CV and it is always good to keep it on hand, so that you can re adapt your curriculum and emphasize some particular traits of your character that will fit each particular job opening at any given moment.
- Pay special attention to your Outreach and Science communication skills.
More and more frequently science communication and outreach is becoming an essential part of many research project, highlighting how important it is that you get out there and bring you science to the world. So if you have already participated in some of these event then make sure to dedicate a section of your CV providing some details on your experience and the skills acquired in the process, I’m sure you will need them continuously during your PhD. However, if you are unsure of how to get involved in these type of events or even if you are just interested on getting some more experience in science outreach, keep an eye out for our social media. You can also let us know if you have decided to organize your own event, we love to promote all types of outreach events!
- Don’t be afraid of highlighting your achievements
We all know how hard is to talk about one’s successes without feeling that you are bragging about them, but the person who is reading your CV doesn’t know your life story! So unless you tell them what you have been doing, what it motivates you and what you have achieved in the past, they will never know.
Sometimes the issue can be that we are not capable of recognizing our own successes. Many of us have had so well ingrained in our minds to always be humble that we struggle to identify our achievements while writing our CV since we don’t give them as much value as we give to other people’s successes. But do not worry, the confidence to do this task develops with time and after writing many applications, so be patient with yourself because you will eventually get there. In the meantime, try to make a list of all your successes, even those that seem really small to you and get somebody to go through them with you. Sometimes, an outsider’s view can help to put things into perspective and it could end up increasing your chances to be shortlisted during the selection process!
- Think outside the box
At the end of the day all CVs tend to display the same type of information. So what can you do to do your CV more effective and stand out from the crowd? In a case like this the only thing left to do is to set free your creativity and get away from some of the conventions on how a curriculum should be. To understand my point, let’s have a look at Aileen’s CV once more and look at certain moments where she has decided to organize the information in unexpected ways.
- Instead of listing all her technical knowledge (software and machinery) in a single section, she has opted for describing how she acquired experience with each specific technique along her career in each of the different positions she has held in the past.
- Aileen has not only highlighted her academic achievements but also some of her personal life achievements, what has allowed her to give a more accurate image of her personality.
- Her curriculum also includes a section with her personal interests. Although this is not commonly seen on the CVs of PhD applicants, when used correctly, it can definitely play in your advantage. For instance, things such as being part of a sports team demonstrate that you are able to work for team goals instead of only focus on your personal ones and can also highlight your ability to collaborate.
Up until this point you have got a pretty good idea of the content of your CV but we also want to add some extra advice in the formatting aspect of your curriculum:
- Keep it to two pages. This seems to be the rule of thumb for any CV, so unless they say otherwise, it is always a good idea to keep it short and sweet. It would be a different case you had many publications as they would need to fit in a third page, but we are assuming that this is the first PhD of your career (some people enjoy the experience so much that they decide to pursue a second one) and therefore, that your publications would fit into the two-pages format.
- Only include relevant information. This marvelously ties up with the previous point. The reason why two pages CV are the norm in the job hunting world is because the person making the selection would probably only have a few minutes to scan your CV, so it should contain all the necessary information to quickly determine if you are the right fit for the position offered. As we said before, there are certain characteristics of your persona that are more relevant that you think. Previous experiences in other roles but with similar responsibilities, or even hobbies such as sports or crafts, have plenty of transferable skills and they talk about your personality and the way you are able to handle certain situations. For instance, if you were the team leader of your scouts group, it tells the person looking at your CV not only about your leadership skills, but also that you are more than likely to “keep it cool” under stressful situations (including hard core fieldwork). So use them to showcase some of your best qualities!
- Describe each of your experiences with bullet points and use bold to highlight any relevant information. This might seem evident but this really makes the work much easier for the person reading your CV. However, there is an art in highlighting. If you go too far, it loses its purpose. So we will recommend you to be subtle but consistent, and that you are paying special attention to your own achievements.
- Include your professional social media. Obviously, do not send your recruiter to see that you have been having avocado toast for breakfast every day this week on your Instagram. We mean only those that you have specially curated for work. Some use LinkedIn, some ResearchGate, some would include both. Make sure they are updated. Some professionals use them as their full curriculum, where they showcase all the projects and jobs they have been involved into along their careers. That way, if you have discarded something that you might not consider relevant for the position, the recruiter could still see it there and ponder whether that aspect of your professional experience is something that would benefit them.
- Consider including a personal statement. Sometimes a powerful and well written paragraph can help tie together different aspects of your curriculum. It is best used in combination with the cover letter, but it can be discarded if things are getting quite tight in your CV since their purpose could be substituted by having a very good cover letter.